What is Southwest Status Worth?

A lack of perks means status is worth pursuing only if you're already a frequent Southwest flyer.
Aug 16, 2022

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If you’re looking to achieve elite status on your favorite airline this year, it’s important to know that all status structures are not created equal. It can take a lot of miles (and dollars) to reach elite status, so you should find out if you’re getting your money’s worth before getting started.

If you frequently fly on Southwest Airlines, you might be wondering if it’s worth it to qualify for its A-List status. Let’s take a look at the airline’s elite tiers and benefits, what they’re worth and if it’s worthwhile to pursue Southwest status.

Southwest elite status tiers

The first things for new Southwest status-seekers to understand are the various status tiers available from Southwest.

A-List Southwest

To qualify for Southwest’s entry-level tier, Southwest Rapid Rewards members must fly 25 qualifying one-way flights or earn 35,000 tier qualifying points in a single calendar year.

What does Southwest A-list status get you?

  • Priority boarding for everyone on your reservation.

  • 25% point-earning bonus on every qualifying flight.

  • Access to same-day changes with no difference in base fare.

  • Dedicated lanes at the check-in counter and airport security.

  • Same-day standby if no seats are available for a same-day change.

Note that regardless of status, all Southwest flyers can check two bags that meet requirements for free. This can be a high-value benefit if you tend to go on long trips or are a heavy packer.

A-List Preferred

To qualify for Southwest’s top tier, passengers must fly 50 qualifying one-way flights or earn 70,000 tier qualifying points in a calendar year.

Benefits include everything in A-List, plus:

  • Free inflight Wi-Fi.

  • 100% point-earning bonus on every qualifying flight.

Companion Pass

The Companion Pass is more a benefit than a status, but it’s still perhaps the most coveted Southwest perk. It lets you designate one person to travel with you for free (not including taxes and fees) every time you fly.

To earn it, fly 100 qualifying one-way flights or earn 125,000 qualifying points in one calendar year. Then, you’ll get to enjoy your Companion Pass for the rest of the calendar year, plus the following calendar year.

The value of A-List: $122.99

According to NerdWallet valuations, the dollar value of the perks and benefits that come with A-List status is $122.99.

But the estimated cost of earning status is $7,028. That’s hardly a good return on investment. In fact, that puts the elite earning rate (the value of the perks offered by a given elite status tier divided by the cost of achieving this tier) at just 2%.

The value of A-List Preferred: $983.94

A-List preferred isn’t much better. While the cash value of this tier is higher at $983.94, the estimated cost of earning it is a whopping $14,056, putting the elite earning rate at a nominal 7%.

You’ll notice that neither of these tiers includes free checked luggage. That’s because all Southwest passengers already get two free checked bags. That’s a welcome offering in an age of ubiquitous luggage fees but means it’s not a potential value add when it comes to achieving status.

The value of Southwest points

Southwest Rapid Rewards points are valued at about 1.5 cents each, according to NerdWallet’s analysis. This is a baseline value, not a maximized value, meaning 1.5 cents is the lowest value you should aim for; more is better.

Rapid Rewards points rise to the top of the list when compared to other domestic airlines, value-wise, which makes it more surprising that elite status with the airline falls at the complete opposite end of the spectrum.

How the value of Southwest elite status compares to competitors

Southwest comes in at the very bottom of NerdWallet’s valuations when it comes to comparing the elite status programs of domestic airlines.

That’s largely because, as a low-cost, budget airline, Southwest only has two main tiers in addition to its Companion Pass (which we didn’t count as an official status tier), and it doesn’t offer elite perks like airport lounge access or a dedicated business or first class.

Here's how elite status values vary across airlines according to our most recent analysis.

Airline

Entry Tier

Mid-Tier

High Tier

Ultra-Tier

Alaska

$850.

$3,520.

$7,256.25.

-

American

$849.25.

$2,360.24.

$4,232.98.

$9,626.20.

Delta

$856.

$2,382.

$5,476.

$10,860.

Frontier

$400.

$1,087.50.

$2,650.00.

-

Hawaiian

$620.

$3,240.

-

-

JetBlue

-

$1,901.71.

-

-

Southwest

-

$122.99.

$983.94.

-

Spirit

$43.96.

$1,428.31.

-

-

United

$1,129.7.

$3,155.82.

$5,928.31.

$12,510.20.

Should I earn elite status with Southwest this year?

All things considered, unless you already fly Southwest exceedingly frequently, earning status with the airline isn’t worth it. The perks and benefits of achieving status are negligible, especially when compared to other domestic airlines. They won’t get you additional free checked bags or enviable seat upgrades that status usually implies, since Southwest doesn’t offer first or business class.

The only benefit worth reaching for is the Companion Pass, which can occasionally be earned in whole or part through valuable, but infrequent, credit card sign-up bonuses.

Methodology

Value of each tier

To determine the value of each elite status tier, we considered those perks that carry a clear value, and we omitted luxury benefits (like dedicated phone lines) that do not. Specifically, we considered:

  • Bonus miles earned.

  • Bag fee offsets.

  • Premium seating upgrades.

  • First class upgrades.

  • Upgrade certificates.

  • Fee waivers.

  • Other individual program perks with clear value.

The table below explains these benefits as well as the assumptions we made in calculating their value.

Elite benefit

Explanation

Assumptions

Bonus miles

The number of extra miles or points earned for this status tier. For example, Alaska MVP members receive 50% bonus miles.

The traveler will fly the number of miles needed to achieve this status tier, and the miles are worth the value that we estimate here.

Bag fee offsets

The value of offset bag fees.

The traveler takes advantage of these offset bag fees every 10,000 miles flown.

Premium seating upgrades

Complimentary upgrades to economy plus, economy comfort, etc.

The traveler is upgraded once every 2,500 miles, discounting those times they are upgraded to first class. We estimate the value of these upgrades at $50 apiece.

First class upgrades

Complimentary upgrades to first and business class.

We assume that higher elite tiers within a given program are more likely to be upgraded, with a maximum upgrade rate of 75% across all programs.

We estimate the value of these upgrades at $200 apiece.

Upgrade certificates

Complimentary upgrade certificates, such as American Airlines systemwide upgrades.

Since members can pick which flights receive upgrades for these, we peg them at a slightly higher value of $300 apiece.

Fee waivers

The value of change/cancel fees that are offset from holding the status.

Travelers change or cancel one flight per 5,000 miles flown (i.e., 10 times for 50,000 miles flown).

Other perks with clear value

Includes lounge membership, mile bonuses, etc.

-

Cost of earning each tier

Airlines offer different thresholds for achieving each status tier, which can be broken into two categories:

  1. Number of miles flown.

  2. Other combination of factors, including elite qualifying dollars spent.

For No. 1, we will estimate the cost of achieving each tier as:

Number of miles needed to achieve tier multiplied by the median cost of flown mile (12 cents, per a separate analysis we conducted). For example, Hawaiian requires 20,000 flown miles for Gold status, so the cost of achieving this tier is 20,000 x $0.12 = $2,400.

For No. 2, we will estimate the cost of achieving each tier as:

Number of elite qualifying dollars divided by the fare-to-cost ratio. The fare-to-cost ratio is a percentage value that represents the average “base fare” to “total cost” of airfare (83% per our separate analysis). For example, AAdvantage Gold status requires $3,000 EQDs, so the cost of achieving this tier is $3,000 / $0.83 = $3,614.

If an airline requires a combination of Nos. 1 and 2, we used No. 2 as the cost of earning because this is usually more difficult to achieve. In other words, it's rare to hit a minimum spending requirement without hitting the mileage requirement.

Here is the estimated cost to earn each status tier:

Airline

Entry tier

Mid-tier

High tier

Ultra-tier

Alaska

$2,400.

$4,800.

$9,000.

-

American

$3,614.

$7,229.

$10,843.

$18,072.

Delta

$3,614.

$7,229.

$10,843.

$18,072.

Frontier

$2,400.

$6,000.

$12,000.

-

Hawaiian

$2,400.

$4,800.

-

-

JetBlue

-

$6,024.

-

-

Southwest

-

$7,028.

$14,056.

-

Spirit

$2,000.

$5,000.

-

-

United

$4,819.

$9,639.

$14,458.

$21,687.

Photo courtesy of Southwest Airlines.


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